Paddling a canoe around Hong Kong’s shorelines – about 275 kilometres – outdoor sports instructor Ken Lee Wai-kam was able to see a whole different side to the city.
The quieter, more remote and rural coastline, a less frenetic pace, and the faces of friendly – if not, on occasion, astonished – villagers, who would show kindness as the two canoes showed up.
Lee, 30, spent 10 days in May last year soaking up the coastline with fellow instructor Anton Tsang Yin-ting.
It was the first time Lee had seen the migratory birds in Mai Po. Near Tai O, he and Tsang played with the dolphins that jumped and dived in front of their canoes.
Lee and Tsang have inspired three others to follow in their wake and hope that others will be inspired to fulfil their dreams, whatever they may be.
“During the planning we had so many things to think about, including whether we go clockwise or anti-clockwise,” Lee says. “We decided to go clockwise as we wanted to go to Victoria Harbour and Lantau first” and end the trip in the northeast towards Sai Kung. It is an area they are far more familiar with and so could pick up speed at that point.
May is the best month for kayaking, says Lee. The months before are misty, and months of prospective typhoons follow.
Despite both men being fairly fit, they struggled on the first couple of days because despite all the planning, they weren’t prepared for the currents and how much physical exertion could be involved.
But sometimes the current worked to their advantage.
“Usually we paddled about 4 kilometres an hour, but on the day we went through the eastern part of Victoria Harbour, the current pushed us along and we were doing 5 kilometres an hour,” Lee says.
The duo usually set out at 8.30am and paddled for about 10 hours. They allowed for 12 days, but in fact pulled off their round Hong Kong feat in 10. They arrived back in Sai Kung at 5pm, in time for their colleagues at Outward Bound, where both men worked at the time, to join them for a celebratory dinner.
These days Lee does sail training at another company, but he says he had always dreamed of canoeing around Hong Kong.
Most nights they slept in a tent “but the villagers would sometimes invite us into their homes to stay. They would say: ‘why do you want to stay in that tent’? And they were interested to hear our story.”
Not all of the trip could be traversed at sea. From Mai Po to Sha Tau Kok, the kayak had to be pulled along the road. “It was on a wheel, so it was like pulling a trolley,” says Lee. He describes the land sectors as one of the more interesting parts of the trip, partly also due to the looks of incredulity from passing drivers.
“Some other instructors who heard our story have since also gone around Hong Kong in canoes. Three of them, one solo and then two,” says Lee.
“I hope we are able to motivate people to achieve their own dreams in their own way.”